Chris Stathakis' LEADERSHIP Blog!

Consistency Versus Innovation

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Tue, May 30, 2017 @ 12:26 PM

innovation, leadership, creativity, janitorial industry, industry leader

Innovations in our industry, like team cleaning, tech savvy floor cleaning machines, color coded microfiber cleaning cloths and even janitorial inspection software were all born from someone thinking, there has to be a better way to do this. Progress in the Building Services industry, like most other industries, is reliant on a balance of creativity and consistency, straddling the line between innovation and standardization.

Or more plainly put, we must be creative in coming up with solutions to our customers’ problems and pain points, but then we must consistently use those fixes to create reliability. We need to innovate and then standardize. After all, what is the point of coming up with creative, innovative solutions if we don’t maximize their impact by applying them across the board?

There is a balance here because all too often, consistency and standardization can be seen as killing creativity and innovation. But in an industry like ours, we are ultimately in charge of solving problems, not creating for creation’s sake. So our creative energy and time spent innovating is in the service of our clients and our own business finding new and better ways to do what we do.

Companies don’t grow because they do the same thing over and over. Yet, they also don’t succeed by constantly shifting their approach. Incremental innovation and using creativity to solve problems and then creating standardized approaches from these innovations moves our industry forward.

Tags: Industry Best Practices, Customer Focus

Real Problem Solving Will Always Trump a Deal

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 @ 01:41 PM

bigstock-Super-discounts-design-in-pop--59291084_copy

 

   “Buy two, get the third free!”
   But I only need one.

   “Save 20%, today only!”
   But I’m busy today.

   “Go with us and pay less!”
   But am I getting less?

   “Get a free this with that!”
   Is it Christmas?

   “Earn double points!”
   Meh.

 

Sometimes I wish businesses would focus less on deals and more on solving a real problem. I know many of these slogans apply to retail businesses and they are certainly in a different game than cleaning, building maintenance and janitorial, but it seems like nearly everywhere I look, businesses are emphasizing a deal or price, but skimping on problem solving and real value.

 

Sure, everyone likes to save money or get free stuff but really what kind of businesses get our business for the long haul? Those that solve problems. Delivering a quality product or service is certainly problem solving because whether it’s a wrinkle free, well fitting men’s dress shirt or a top notch janitorial company, both will make your life easier.

 

And of course, lower prices are great if you are getting the same service, but we all know that doesn’t happen very often. Delivering a low price is not the same as delivering value. Value is about your perception of what you are getting versus what you are paying. For instance, when shopping cereals at the grocery store, one box may be cheaper but smaller than a slightly more expensive box. If you look at the price per ounce, you’ll see that the larger box is a better value. Unless of course no one in your house eats that brand which in turn negates any cost savings you might get! In my own industry, some companies are cheaper yes, but value suffers more often than not. If you are paying 10% less money for 40% less in services, the value is just not there.

 

So how do you solve a problem? Of course you could uncover a problem and invent the next best thing, but most of us aren’t in that game. You solve problems by being all that your competition isn’t. What complaints are common in your industry? Be the one company or among the few companies that don’t do that. Surprise your customers by being better. My industry is known for high turnover and our turnover here at Stathakis is significantly below industry averages. That solves a problem for our customers because it means fewer new people in and out of their buildings and better overall service. Is your industry known for constant upselling? Be the company that what you see is what you get. Be the doctor that always runs on time and doesn’t rush you through. Be the diet company that doesn't promise overnight results.

 

Most of us leaders, owners, managers, salespeople and the like want to build our businesses, make money, dominate our fields and achieve excellence. Sure the occasional deal has its place, but it’s usually about what you need rather than what the customer needs. You need to clear inventory, you need to make your month, you need to meet budgets. Focus on your customers’ needs and problems and you will last the marathon and not just the sprint.

Tags: Customer Focus, Culture

Give Them the Steak, Not the Story

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Sat, Dec 13, 2014 @ 12:03 PM

bigstock-steak-55744724In our business, when a customer is unhappy, it’s typically about a person’s performance. It’s just the nature of being a service business. If we made computers, they might be unhappy about the processor speed. If we sold closets, there might be an occasional issue about construction. But we sell a service, so when our customers are unsatisfied, it’s usually directed at a person or team caring for their facilities.

I think this makes it more challenging when there is an issue because it can feel very personal to hear that someone is unhappy with the service they are receiving from a member of your team. A slow computer processor can be optimized over time and a faulty closet system can be replaced but a person and their performance requires a bit more finesse when it comes to pinpointing the issue and resolving the problem. 

There are of course situations where we learn pretty quickly that someone is just not a good fit for our organization. In this case you can send someone packing and bring in a new person, problem solved. But more often than not, the issue will come down to the employee needing something in the way of communication, training, systems or oversight, or of course all of these. These are not so much employee problems as they are manager problems. So it pains me when I hear a business owner or manager throw one of their team under the bus. 

It’s one thing to vent or strategize with a manager on your team to try to get a meandering team member back on track. But when you place the blame with the employee in front of your customer, you just look bad. As business owners and operators, we all know the frustrations and issues inherent when you have a large team of people. And we know that one employee can throw things out of whack. Still, you hired them, you trained them, you manage them and so, their problems are your problems, especially when it comes to the customer.

It seems intuitive that as a manager you would just fix the problem, but I am often surprised at how many people can’t seem to just take the criticism from a customer and fix the issue without placing blame. Think about it, let’s say you are at a nice steak house and you have a fairly incompetent server. When an hour goes by and you still don’t have your food, you call the manager over to complain and he goes on and on about what a problem the server is and how he has tried all sorts of things and isn’t sure why they aren’t working out. Is that what you want? No, you want your steak right? So the next time you hear from an unhappy customer, give them the steak and not the story.

Tags: Customer Focus

It’s TOTALLY About People

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 @ 08:13 AM

Its TOTALLY About People resized 600Last week I was in Las Vegas attending the BSCAI Annual Convention and the ISSA Tradeshow. As I walked around the tradeshow, I saw stall after stall of the latest and greatest assortment of chemicals and equipment designed for our industry. With promises as big as their price tags, the vast array of options designed to make a cleaning business better was overwhelming.

I had to step back for a moment and consider the real impact any of these offerings would really have on our business. It’s easy to get excited about shiny, new equipment and the newest green cleaners, but if it is all designed to put us ahead of our competition we really must first ask the question, what really makes one cleaning company better than another? The answer is quite simple, our people make us better. So anything we do or acquire must be about our people and how we can best support them.

BSCAI Building Service Contractors Association InternationalAs the Building Service Contractors industry continues to mature, there become fewer and fewer differences between vendors and suppliers. I would guess that end users of Janitorial Services could probably say the same thing about Janitorial Companies. At the end of the day the most important part of our business is how we treat and support our workforce. Everything great about what we do grows from that single directive.

It is often said that the Building Service Contractor Industry is B to B (Business to Business), I say it is P to P (People to People). At the Las Vegas trade show, I had the opportunity to sit down with other business owners from around the country to talk about our industry and where it is headed. Through every conversation the importance of people in our industry continually resonated. Whether the topic was the economy, government healthcare policy, or new industry trends, it always pointed back to how it impacted the millions of employees that make-up the BSC workforce. How many other businesses have such a dependence on their workforce?

At Stathakis we appreciate and support our employees everyday. It is part of our Ubuntu Management Philosophy but more than that, we truly depend on our people to point us in the right direction to greet every tomorrow prepared and ready to do our best.

Tags: Customer Focus, Culture, Ubuntu

The Power of Telling Why

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Mon, Nov 11, 2013 @ 07:42 AM

Why-StathakisThis past week I was sitting in the Conference Room with Bruce Stark who is from the ISSA CIMS Program. We were on the subject of communication and Bruce asked me how often I explain to people WHY they are asked to do something. I had to admit that when I do tell them WHY, it is not usually by design. Conventional wisdom tells us that employees should just do what they’re told and it’s all too easy to get locked into that kind of thinking. Is telling someone WHY he or she are being asked to do something unnecessary information or is it the road to real learning? And is an employee who asks WHY subordinate or showing real interest in their jobs and a curiosity that points to real leadership potential? The reality is that understanding the WHY, or the reason they are doing something motivates people to do better work.


Think about it as it pertains to our industry. If a manager tells Joe who cleans building X, make sure you clean the front door a few times a day. Joe might think, of course I clean it and do nothing more to act on it. If the manager says, Joe, I want you to check up on the front windows and door a few times a day because John the Facility Manager mentioned to me how important he thinks it is that customers never see a dirty front entrance. Now Joe sees this isn’t some power grab or whim from his manager but a solid attempt to prioritize work based on the customer’s wishes and Joe is far more likely to take action. The manager has just engaged Joe in problem solving. Joe might even come up with a better plan that will make sure the goal is met.

How often do we miss real learning opportunities in our organization because we are so busy telling people what to do that we seldom slow down to tell them WHY we are doing it. When you tell someone WHY, it does a number of things:

  1. It shows them great respect by engaging them on the same level.
  2. It allows them to expand beyond what you are asking them to do.
  3. It inspires inovation.

Innovation isn’t just a top down thing. Maybe there is a better way to do something and maybe your Management Team doesn't have the time, energy, and direction to analyze every step of every process your frontline employees carry out. Frontline employees are better equipped to focus on those very details to find a better way. Starting with the WHY gives frontline employees the information they need to come up with a better HOW. Likewise, slowing down to deliver the WHY along with the directive engages employees in problem solving and over time, helps people become more self-directed. When you understand the WHY, it is much easier to figure out WHAT comes next.

Tags: Customer Focus, Learn Everyday

Living A Life With Honor

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Sun, Oct 20, 2013 @ 10:08 AM

Living Life With Honor resized 600My son attended a high school that based their entire leadership program around a very simply stated Honor Code which reads,

"I will not lie, cheat, or steal, and I will discourage others from such actions."

For four years I observed how he lived by this code and consistently referenced it when making decisions. The school instilled the honor code in every student and those students that could not respect leadership and the honor code did not succeed. I was proud to see my son internalize these simple but important values during his time in school. What I didn't realize during these four years is what my son was teaching me. I have always sought to conduct myself and lead my life with honor but lacked this simple action statement that really nails down what living a life of honor is all about. Like a company’s mission statement, could this honor code be used as a kind of individual mission statement?

Here are some basic definitions extracted from the leadership manual at his school:

Lying:

A lie is a statement or action designed to deceive or to mislead.

Cheating:
Cheating involves taking unfair advantage of others. In the classroom, cheating includes taking or giving assistance during tests, plagiarism (presenting the work or ideas of another as your own without giving proper credit—this includes the Internet), and misrepresentation (failure to document the assistance you receive from others during the preparation, revision, or proofreading of an assignment).

Stealing:
Stealing involves taking another person’s property without that person’s permission or knowledge. It does not matter whether you have the property permanently or temporarily.

Imagine a world in which everybody lived by the same code? "I will not lie, cheat, or steal, and I will discourage others from such actions." Imagine for a moment a world where there was no lying, stealing, or cheating. Imagine people motivated to support each other rather than meeting just their individual needs at any cost. Think about how easily we could all move about in a world in which we have each other's backs and don't have to live in fear of being taken advantage of. To imagine the world in this way may seem as likely as a pet unicorn, but it really doesn’t have to be. Can we expect that 100% of the human population follow this as their internal compass? No, I think there are always going to be people who are not equipped to act for a common good or balance their individual needs with others needs. Yet what if just 51%, just a small majority of humans operated with these ideals in mind as they led their lives? What could the world look like?

It is amazing how the rest of my children have adopted this honor code without even attending the same school. I think what has made it work so well for my family is that it is just based on simple common sense. I’d like to put this in our employee manual at work as an intention, an aim or plan for moving forward. I don’t think it has to be about 100% compliance but to move forward towards conducting ourselves by this code.

"I will not lie, cheat, or steal, and I will discourage others from such actions."

Tags: Customer Focus, Culture

The Department of Broken Promises

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Mon, Oct 14, 2013 @ 11:58 AM

Department Broken Promises resized 600I was recently sitting in on the interview of an employee candidate for a Supervisor Role within our company. I like to get to know and help choose Supervisors when possible because they are the life blood of our company. Supervisors work closely with employees, customers, and management so finding people who we think we can help excel here is pretty important. One of the things I found interesting was the candidate’s prior job history. Her job, simply put, was in the "Broken Promises" Department at a major auto credit company. It was here she would contact individuals who did not honor payment promises made. This got me to thinking how almost all companies could have a Department of Broken Promises. Whether it's falling short on customers’ expectations or an employee not following through on their commitment to show up to work, there are plenty of "broken promises" to go around in everyday life.  

This Department of Broken Promises really made me frame promises in a whole different way. How many times do we casually commit to things that we really don't plan on honoring? Whether it's not calling that person you promised to call or conveniently forgetting to show up to that volunteer event, we all have broken promises. We are humans and humans make mistakes but if you had a Department of Broken Promises in your life, what would they be and how can you strive to change this? It isn’t always easy but it’s important to be a person of your word. Don’t promise things you know you won’t do. Even little things like not returning a phone call as promised will erode trust over time.  

One of the most challenging things we can face as adults is how to accurately assess how much we can really do and then learn to divide our responsibilities to fit within that time. If you find yourself breaking promises too often, you probably need to say no more often and commit to following through on the things you do agree on. For example, if a neighbor asks you to pick up their son or a coworker asks you to handle a part of a large project due soon, don’t just automatically say yes. Think about whether or not you really have time and if you will be able to do what you agree to. Maybe your neighbor has helped you many times and you feel like you should do this. Fair enough, if you agree to it then you must follow through. If you cannot, just say no, your neighbor would much prefer knowing in advance so she can make other arrangements rather than scrambling when you cancel on her last minute. Same thing with the work project, if you think asking for your help is unreasonable or you simply are overwhelmed with other work, say so. Don’t agree to do something and then not follow through. People will remember broken promises far longer than a simple no.

Tags: Customer Focus

5 Steps to Creating Great Teams at Work

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Sun, Sep 15, 2013 @ 01:30 PM

Great Teams Work resized 600Building a successful business is much like building a winning team. In my own company I see myself as a coach and the people around me as valued team members. My focus over the past few years has been figuring out the best ways to support the team so they can meet our team objectives. Graduating to a team philosophy has allowed us to create a synergy in the company that was not possible acting as individuals. The best part of the team philosophy is that it makes work fun for us! 

Here are five steps that have helped me build great teams at work:

1. Have a common goal and direction. Alignment is very important to help everyone move in the same direction. It is doesn't mean that everyone has to step in the exact same footprints, it just means that everyone knows which direction the group is headed so the team can openly discuss the best way to get there. 

2. Openly communicate throughout the entire team. Open communication reduces conflict by minimizing fear of the unknown. It seems like so much human conflict starts when communication stops. When a team does a good job internally communicating, it removes the guess work on what others are really doing or their true intentions. There is much less, "Do you know what Sally is doing?" or "Do you know what Bob wants us to be doing?" All of a sudden, individual roles become clear and the team can concentrate, drama free, on a common team objective.

3. Develop trust and a safe environment so that everyone feels comfortable enough to share ideas and communicate issues that might become obstacles. A team where everyone is expected to blindly support the leader’s idea is not taking full advantage of the groups potential. A Great Team's job should be about finding the best ideas and making them better. This requires an environment where openly sharing ideas with honest criticism is not seen as a threat.

4. Assign roles so everyone knows how they will contribute to the team. This will reduce conflict and make team members feel like they are a valuable part of the team. When roles are not clearly assigned, it can create in-fighting as two team members compete for the same role or turf. Imagine watching a baseball game where the coach didn't assign positions and two players take the field, both to play second base. A good coach makes sure that everyone knows what position their playing before taking the field.

5. Take time to celebrate the wins! Break your goals down into smaller objectives so you can celebrate each win as you work toward achieving the larger objectives. It is no different than a team sports season where the overall objective might be winning the division title, but the team takes a little time to celebrate each game win. It is no different with your team and celebrating the wins along the way will help your team reinforce what success looks like.   Remember, life is a journey and we need to enjoy each step along our path.

It only takes two or more people to start a great team at work. Make your team a winner and the next thing you know you will have a whole bench of people wanting to be a part of it. Building a great team is not an easy endeavor. Yet sharing the wins and even the losses brings you together and can help you set and meet bigger goals than you could alone.

Tags: Customer Focus, Learn Everyday

It's all about PEOPLE

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 @ 07:02 PM

Its All About People resized 600We had an employee appreciation cookout behind our office at work yesterday and it was such a pleasure to see so many familiar faces in one place and a few new ones too. It was great talking to everyone and hearing their many stories about their lives, families and work. It just reiterated for me that people are the most important component of our business and I am really proud of the people that make up our many teams.

In getting to talk to everyone, there was one story in particular that stuck with me. One of our employees found a $100 bill laying on the floor in a bank that she cleans each night. Because it was late at night, she could not get in touch with the customer. She did not want to leave the money but she didn’t want to take the money home to return it the next day fearing that it might look dishonest. So she cleverly hid the $100 bill where no one would find it and the next day she visited the customer taking them to the hiding place and returning the $100 bill to it's rightful owner. That is some pretty impressive problem solving.   

At the end of the day, we have a lot of great employees who care about their jobs and our customers. Without our employees there would be no customers and without customers there would be no company. Thank you to everyone who was able to attend the cookout and thank you for sharing your experiences with me. I am really proud of the kind of people that make up the Stathakis team and I hope everyone enjoys these last few days of summer.

Tags: Customer Focus, Culture

Stop Thinking Everyone is Like You

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Aug 09, 2013 @ 05:30 PM

We are all different resized 600"Remember You Are Unique, Just Like Everyone Else."

The quote is kind of tounge in cheek but there is certainly some truth to it. Each one of us has an individual story. This story is created from our background, our childhood, our influences, our interactions in the world, our experiences, our wins and of course, our losses. All of these elements and more shape who we are and how we see the world and our place in it.

We all interact with each other based on our own personal stories. Maybe one individual was made to feel stupid by someone when he was little and now he goes into interactions assuming people are not interested in what he has to say. Maybe another person had a chaotic early life and now has a hard time trusting others. Perhaps one person loves the challenge and excitement of new duties on the job, while another individual gets anxious when things change and prefers to deepen their expertise in one main area. Maybe one person is enlivened by intense debate about something while another person feels threatened, stressed and clams up.

The point is, we are all so very different and our individual stories color the way we see everything. Our own personal experience is inside our selves and while that experience can be rich, it is largely hidden from others. This is one of our greatest shortcomings as individuals, because our inner experience is private and hidden, we often forget others have one too. We tend to treat most situations like everyone is just like us. So my advice - STOP THINKING OTHERS ARE JUST LIKE YOU!

In order to create understanding and connection between individuals, we need to step outside ourselves and try to understand the experiences and perspective of others. Your story is not their story and their story is not yours. Instead of connecting with people by always trying to find out how they are like you, you can look a little deeper and try to discover how they are different. As humans, we are in so many ways the same but our differences add color, flavor and texture to our lives. Not only can we come to a place where we respect our differences, we can actually appreciate the things that make each one of us unique.

Stathakis Open Positions

Tags: Customer Focus, Ubuntu

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